Fortunately, like most of you, I have air conditioning.
Lots of people don't. They're mostly poor and elderly (except for the people who live next door to me who are just eccentric).
Now I know air conditioning contributes to global warming and I know that when I grew up we didn't have any (and I had to walk miles to school through snow drifts with only a hot potato to keep me warm in the winter).
Still, I'd be less then honest if I claimed I'd be getting rid of the AC this week.
That brings us to this timely class war story from out here in America.
Heat is the number one weather related killer in the United States. On average, 350 people die each year due to heat.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a thorough study of individual-level risk factors for heat wave victims, and they came up with a list of conditions of vulnerability: living alone, not leaving home daily, lacking access to transportation, being sick or bedridden, not having social contacts nearby, and of course not having an air conditioner.
Sound like elderly poor folks.
During that great Chicago heat wave a few years back some interesting facts emerged.
The actual death tolls for African Americans and whites were almost identical, but those numbers were misleading. There are far more elderly whites than elderly African Americans in Chicago, and when the Chicago Public Health Department considered the age differences, they found that the black/white mortality ratio was 1.5 to 1.
Most of the African American neighborhoods with high heat wave death rates had been abandoned—by employers, stores, and residents—in recent decades. The social ecology of abandonment, dispersion, and decay makes systems of social support exceedingly difficult to sustain.
Poor and African American and old!!!
Hundreds of Chicago residents died alone, behind locked doors and sealed windows, out of contact with friends, family, and neighbors, unassisted by public agencies or community groups. There's nothing natural about that.
The death toll was the result of distinct dangers in Chicago's social environment: an increased population of isolated seniors who live and die alone; the culture of fear that makes city dwellers reluctant to trust their neighbors or, sometimes, even leave their houses; the abandonment of neighborhoods by businesses, service providers, and most residents, leaving only the most precarious behind; and the isolation and insecurity of single room occupancy dwellings and other last-ditch low-income housing.
In addition, these neighborhoods had higher crime rates, creating a fear that prevented older people from leaving their homes or opening their windows.
Doesn't sound like rich folks or those out in the suburbs, does it?
During an interview with Eric Klinenberg author of Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, Klineberg concluded:
We know that more heat waves are coming. Every major report on global warming—including the recent White House study—warns that an increase in severe heat waves is likely. The only way to prevent another heat disaster is to address the isolation, poverty, and fear that are prevalent in so many American cities today. Until we do, natural forces that are out of our control will continue to be uncontrollably dangerous.
But it isn't only Chicago and it isn't only the city and it isn't only African Americans.
In July 2006, daytime temperatures out in the farming areas of California consistently shot past 100º F for two weeks, with temperatures reaching 115º F for several consecutive days. The heat lead to the deaths of 50 people in the Central Valley. Most victims were elderly, migrant farm workers, outdoor laborers, and people living alone or in poor housing conditions. To the south, in the Imperial Valley, another heavily agricultural area, many of the dead were migrants living in tents or trailers, sometimes far from any town.
It is almost always the poor and the elderly, however.
In Canada this week Suzanne Young and Stanley Scott who lived adjacent to each other died of the heat. She was 49 and he was 58.
Guess what. Even though they weren't elderly or black, they had poverty and fear in common.
Sue Young and Stan Scott were social assistance recipients, and neither could afford the $50 monthly fee charged by building managers to cover the electricity cost of a window air conditioner. Young was on medication for mental illness. She was afraid of robbers, and kept her windows closed, a neighbour said, using a small fan as her only means to stay cool.
Scott had serious physical problems of his own and hadn't been feeling well. He, too, had only a fan, and told a reporter three days before his body was retrieved from the basement apartment that the heat was "the worst it's been
Anyway, think about it. Even the heat is conscious of class.
And it could be your momma.
By the way, did I mention the homeless...
The following is from Local 12 News in Cincinnati. It could be from most anywhere.
Cincinnati Could Have It's First Heat-Related Death
In the midst of a heat emergency, Cincinnati could have it's first heat-related death. A body was found around seven this morning at Third and Broadway in downtown Cincinnati.
The victims name hasn't been released, but officials say the man was homeless and living under one of the overpasses here. We'll have an official cause of death once an autopsy is completed. But again, officials believe the heat is to blame. Earlier today, we checked around area overpasses and didn't see any homeless, but we could see signs that, yes, people do stay here and sleep here.
There were boxes and blankets laid out as makeshift beds and a few personal effects were left out. Along the riverfront, Local 12's Lauren Bercarich spoke to a woman who told her that she manages to stay cool and seemed more concerned about the rain today. But, without shelter and cool air, the homeless are some of the most vulnerable to the summer heat.
Bercarich stopped by the drop-in-center in Over-The-Rhine today, and that's where some homeless are going to get a break from the heat. The building is air-conditioned, and for anyone looking for a little relief, all Cincinnati Recreation Centers are serving as cooling centers. Anyone is welcome to stop by and cool off.
During a heat emergency, make sure to drink plenty of water. You can use baths and showers to cool down. Keep your blinds closed to keep out sunlight and heat. Remember, cooling centers are also available throughout the region.